Rising Star – Gerald Kelley
Gerald Kelley, one of Bright’s talented American artists has spent 18 years perfecting his classic yet modern illustration style. Gerald’s delicate drawings and watercolor images have made him one of our most sought after artists with a portfolio filled with a range of beautifully conceptualised imagery spanning a global client base. We wanted to catch up with our rising star and find out what makes him tick…
When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
I think I realized I could pursue art as a career when I started high school. My first actual art lessons weren’t until I was seventeen, taught at a small art supply store by a fantastic local western artist. That was the first inkling I had that you could get away with make a living from drawing pictures. No one ever took me aside to tell me that it isn’t a realistic goal, so I went forward under a grand delusion that I could support myself with my art.
What has been your favourite project to work on so far in your career?
I have quite a few. However, I have to place The Legend of the Jersey Devil at the top. It was my first trade picture book where I was given such latitude in staging and designing. I have an interest in folk tales and the Jersey Devil was always one of my favorite.
What is your preferred medium?
Watercolor. Hands down. Amazing and terrifying at the same time.
But combining it with the computer opens up tons of possibilities. ‘Undo’ is a gift.
Bob the street cat books, including Gerald’s illustrated My Name Is Bob, has sold over 1 million copies in the UK alone. Gerald is now illustrating a sequel for the Christmas season for publication later this year. And there are talks about a possible movie to be made featuring this beloved cat!
How many sketch books have you collected over the years?
I think I have a little over a dozen or so in various states of completion. I’ve never been a disciplined sketchbooker. I know that sounds like blasphemy in this field, but I honestly spend so much time completing work for clients that I like to walk away when I have free time and get my mind on other things. It helps me focus when I come back.
Who inspires your work?
There’ve been tons of people over the years…
- Albert Uderzo. I met my grandparents only once when I was a very young child visiting them in England. They gave gave me a copy of Asterix the Legionary, and I’m pretty sure that set me on the road to drawing. That man has some serious drawing chops.
- Peter de Seve was my first major inspiration as an illustrator. I saw his work in one of those monstrous Illustration Showcase books when I was in college and fell in love immediately.
- Rien Poortvliet is another. His command of atmosphere is humbling and I could look at his work all day.
- Jon J Muth is a watercolor god.
- John Pike is a watercolorist whose work I only recently discovered. Amazing stuff.
- Victor Ambrus. I love his aggressive mix of line and color.
- Lisbeth Zwerger. Her draftsmanship and delicate handling of color is a wonder.
- Brian Wildsmith and John Burningham are also a recent discoveries. Children’s illustrators from the 60’s were alive with experimentation and these two gentlemen are mesmerizing.
What’s your favourite illustrated character? (yours or another)
That changes by the day. My current obsession is the panda, Stillwater, featured in Jon J Muth’s Zen Shorts and Zen Ghosts. Simple and elegant.
You have a very unique, highly rendered style – Have you found digital platforms to be a help or hinderance to your own work?
Definitely a help. On strictly a practical level, production schedules are sooooo tight in children’s publishing that there would be no way to come close to finishing on time if I relied solely on traditional tools. That being said, I’m starting to experiment with loosening up my rendering and mixing in even more traditional tools. I’ve been weaning myself off my control freak tendencies, and I’m slowly embracing more gestural and expressive line and brushwork. I want to simplify. I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.
An artist’s studio space is very unique to its owner – what’s yours like?
When I first started out as an illustrator (way, way back in the distant past) I had to set up a work area each time I needed to paint – I was using my bed to hold my materials and my painting board sat on stacked milk crates. We recently moved into a new house and for the first time in my professional career I have a fully dedicated studio area. I now have space for digital work and also traditional. Ikea has become my new friend. The main focus is my twelve-month wall calendar. That thing keeps me on track while navigating multiple projects with overlapping deadlines. I have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with inspirational art books, reference materials and fiction. The collection will most likely be expanding now I’m planted in one spot for the foreseeable moment.
Can you give us some hints to your upcoming projects?
• I’m working on roughs for the next Bob the Streetcat picture book which is set to publish this year for the holiday season.
• I have the rare treat of doing pen-and-ink interior work for a chapter book.
• I just delivered final artwork to Random House for a new illustrated version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol coming out in October of this year.
• I also have a picture book manuscript I am developing at the moment featuring a very special bear that will be shared with publishers soon. Fingers crossed.
• I recently finished negotiating the schedule for an upcoming book project with Random House which I’m unable to discuss at the moment because of the high-profile author. It’s an opportunity to work with someone whom I admire a great deal here in the US — the book is scheduled for 2016 and will be announced soon.
I’m not unaware of how fortunate I am in staying busy in a profession filled with such a wide array of talent. I’m just happy to be here.
And we at Bright are thrilled to represent Gerald –
an incredibly gifted visual storyteller and writer!
If you’d like to see his samples or new story ideas, please contact:
Anne Moore Armstrong – email@example.com